Dirty Money: A Matter of Bacterial Survival, Adherence, and Toxicity

Microorganisms. 2016 Nov 23;4(4):42. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms4040042.


In this study we report the underlying reasons to why bacteria are present on banknotes and coins. Despite the use of credit cards, mobile phone apps, near-field-communication systems, and cryptocurrencies such as bitcoins which are replacing the use of hard currencies, cash exchanges still make up a significant means of exchange for a wide range of purchases. The literature is awash with data that highlights that both coins and banknotes are frequently identified as fomites for a wide range of microorganisms. However, most of these publications fail to provide any insight into the extent to which bacteria adhere and persist on money. We treated the various currencies used in this study as microcosms, and the bacterial loading from human hands as the corresponding microbiome. We show that the substrate from which banknotes are produced have a significant influence on both the survival and adherence of bacteria to banknotes. Smooth, polymer surfaces provide a poor means of adherence and survival, while coarser and more fibrous surfaces provide strong bacterial adherence and an environment to survive on. Coins were found to be strongly inhibitory to bacteria with a relatively rapid decline in survival on almost all coin surfaces tested. The inhibitory influence of coins was demonstrated through the use of antimicrobial disks made from coins. Despite the toxic effects of coins on many bacteria, bacteria do have the ability to adapt to the presence of coins in their environment which goes some way to explain the persistent presence of low levels of bacteria on coins in circulation.

Keywords: bacteria; banknotes; coins; microbiome; microcosm; substrate.